Baseball: Japan, the Netherlands blast way into WBC final four

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[March 16, 2017]  (Reuters) - Japan and the Netherlands crushed their opponents in second round play at the World Baseball Classic on Wednesday, earning a trip to Los Angeles for the semi-finals.

In late action, the United States got off to a strong second round start with a 4-2 victory over Venezuela.

The U.S. and Puerto Rico have each won their first games in Pool F, and are trying to join Japan and the Netherlands in the last four.

Japan exploded for five runs in the sixth inning to break open a scoreless contest with Israel at the Tokyo Dome.

They then coasted to an 8-3 victory to finish at the top of Pool E and complete an unbeaten run (6-0) through the first two rounds.

Earlier, Wladimir Balentien homered twice as the Netherlands dismissed Cuba 14-1 in a rout, which was ended after seven innings because of the tournament's termination rule.

Japan, champions in 2006 and 2009, and the Netherlands will now wait to see which two teams emerge as semi-finalists from Pool F, which comprises defending champions the Dominican Republic, the United States, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

The Netherlands, who were knocked out in the semis in the last WBC tournament in 2013, benefited from another fine pitching performance from left-hander Diegomar Markwell. He surrendered just one run in six innings of work but again the Dutch bats did most of the damage, pounding out 13 hits.

Balentien and Jurickson Profar led the hit parade with three apiece, while Kalian Sams and Yurendell Decaster also homered.

The Netherlands have blasted their way into the final four, scoring 11 runs in three games in the opening round and 32 in the second.

"All I asked was they not take anything for granted and that they just play hard, the way we did against Israel," Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens said. "We've played great all tournament.

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"We feel great about our chances."

It was a disappointing tournament for Cuba.

Once considered a baseball power, Cuba was runner-up to Japan in the first World Baseball Classic in 2006 but exited after going 0-3 in the second round this time.

After the Netherlands' victory, Israel knew they needed a win against Japan to force a tie-breaker and got off to a solid start with Josh Zeid holding the hosts scoreless through four innings.

But Israel's tournament dreams came to a crashing end in the sixth inning when Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh pounded a home run to deep center field to key a five-run burst.

Japan would pad their lead with three runs in the eighth before Israel responded with three in the top of the ninth.

The Americans overcame a two-run deficit as Adam Jones and Eric Hosmer homered in the eighth inning to lift them.

Rougned Odor homered and Felix Hernandez pitched five scoreless innings for Venezuela in the loss. Hernandez gave up three singles, struck out three and walked none. He also threw 61 pitches.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Susan Fenton/Sudipto Ganguly)

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